Henrietta and James were watching their favourite film which happened to be on TV, balancing their laptops on their laps. James was unhappy, Henrietta did not need to ask him to know. He was usually so upbeat and positive, even when things were not going his way. Not tonight, though. Tonight he was quiet, sombre and troubled.
It was Friday evening – exactly four days, three hours and twenty-seven minutes after James’ parents had announced that they were getting a divorce. As soon as the ‘D’ word had passed his father’s lips, James had run upstairs and into his room, pushing his bed against the door. He ignored his parents’ pleas and remained silent, cradling his head in his arms whilst tears streamed down his face. That evening he had not spoken to anyone, not even his best friend, Henrietta.
The next day after school, James was sitting at the desk while Henrietta adopted her usual position, propped up comfortably against her bed. They had been chatting for a few minutes before Henrietta realised that something was not quite right.
“James, what’s up?” She asked her friend.
“Nothing, I’m fine!” Replied James, not at all convincingly.
“Just tell me, you know I won’t leave you alone until you do.” There was a long pause, before James hesitantly responded.
“My mum and dad are getting a divorce.”
Henrietta did not know what to say. She knew that his parents had been arguing for a few months, but then her parents often argued too. There was a long silence while Henrietta attempted to find the right words; the words that would comfort James and make him feel better. But there were none.
“I’m sorry.” She finally managed. “That sucks.”
“Yeah, it does. Henrietta, I’ve got to go. I’ve got loads of homework to do.”
“Okay, bye James. Just let me know if you want a chat, yeah?”
James had not spoken to her again until Friday evening. The two sixteen year-olds were sitting in their usual positions, getting ready for the movie. Henrietta reached into her bowl of microwave popcorn, listening to James tell her about his week. It sounded horrible. His parents had stopped speaking to each other, or even near each other, meaning that James had not talked to them much either. They had both come to his room on several occasions, but whatever they said made him feel worse. His mum was going to move out and James would have to stay with living in the house with his father. They thought it was the best option but they had not asked James. They did not ask him what he wanted. All he really wanted was to escape; to run away without looking back.
James talked and Henrietta listened, crunching un-popped kernels between her teeth . That was all he needed: someone to listen. Henrietta just wanted to reach out and hug him. But she couldn’t. She wanted to tell her best friend that everything would be alright. But she couldn’t. The film began and James got comfortable, opening his bag of Maltesers.
“I’m so jealous.” Whined Henrietta, “Maltesers are my favourite things ever!”
“Well, they’re all mine!” James replied, wearing a mischievous smirk.
Henrietta loved it when James smiled, even sarcastically. It had been a while since she had seen his face had broken out in a grin and he was so handsome when it did. When he smiled, she smiled. That was one of the many reasons she loved James. She loved him as a younger brother, even though he was seven months and sixteen days older than her. James loved Henrietta, too, but in a very different way. She was beautiful and she was funny, she made him happy even when he felt trapped in the darkest of corners. But she could not make him happy now. Nobody could.
His parents’ divorce did not come as a shock to James, but it was the final straw. They used to be so happy together. His home was once a haven of happiness and laughter. But that all changed seven months ago, when James’ sister Rachel passed away. That was a shock. Nobody could have expected it to happen. She was older than James by more than three years but the siblings were closer than a lot of other brothers and sisters he knew. They would spend lots of time together, playing on computer games, watching films, going for bike rides along country lanes. On this particular Saturday, James and Rachel had gone for a stroll in the summer sun. On their way home, they reached a zebra crossing. James stopped and bent down to tie up his shoelaces for what seemed like the hundredth time that day. He did not realise that Rachel had already stepped out onto the crossing until he heard it. The screech of the tyres. The blunt thud of body hitting bonnet. The screams of passers-by. James lifted his head and his eyes confirmed what had happened. His sister’s body lay broken in the road. He ran to her side, crying her name and plummeting to his knees. He knew before the ambulance had even arrived that his sister was gone.
After the funeral was when things really began to fall apart. His parents’ arguments became more frequent and more aggressive. They could not cope with what had happened; they could not deal with the pain. Their daughter’s death tore them apart. James kept to himself. He stopped going to school, stopped talking to his friends, and stopped being happy. He was devastated by the loss of his sister. He was angry with her killer. He was angry with Rachel for walking into the road without looking. But he blamed only one person: himself. He blamed himself for his sister’s death because he should have been paying attention. He should have stopped her. It should have been him. And he blamed himself for his parents’ divorce. Henrietta did not know this. She did not even know that James had had a sister because he had never told her. He had only started speaking to Henrietta a month after the tragic incident. He did not want to tell her, just in case she blamed him, too.
The film came to an end. Henrietta and James said goodnight, both feeling exhausted after a long week. When Henrietta woke up the following morning, she checked her phone to find a text message. It was from James and had been sent at 4:39am. All it said was, “I’m sorry. Goodbye. X”
` Henrietta found James in her contact list and called. No answer. She sent him a text demanding that he reply. She left identical messages on Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and even sent him an email just in case. She rang his phone again and again. Still no response. There was only one option left. The ginger haired teenager threw on the first clothes she could find, grabbed her purse, sprinted down the stairs and out of her front door. If she wanted to know that James was okay, she would have to try and find him.
James was alone in his bedroom. He was alone and he was lonely. He missed his sister. He missed the life he used to have. It was past midnight, so James knew his parents would be asleep – his mother in her bed and his father in Rachel’s old room. He tiptoed down the stairs, not wanting to wake his parents, and into the kitchen to pour himself a glass of milk. He remembered when he was younger and his sister would hear his bedroom door creak open. She would follow him downstairs and pour them both a glass of cold milk. She’d make sure he was okay and if he could not sleep, read him a story until his eyes closed and his breathing grew deep and steady. Then the next morning, she would wake him up by jumping on his bed and they would go downstairs to his parents making breakfast before his father left for work. Not now. Now, James poured his own glass of milk. The stories that James read in bed were Facebook statuses and Tweets. Breakfast was no longer quality time lovingly spent with his family.
Sleep escaped James for hours. He tossed and turned. He thought about what life used to be like. He thought about how much he missed his big sister. He cried for a while, then shook himself until he stopped. After a few deep breaths, he turned onto his other side and closed his eyes. All he could see was his sister’s face. She was sad. He could not remember what she had looked like when she smiled, even though he had never seen her cry. His imagination had replaced his memory. He felt the tears building behind his eyes once more. He let them fall. He sobbed until his body convulsed. He felt sick but still the salty tears streamed down his cheeks, soaking his pillow. He did not remember using his duvet to wipe his face. He did not remember leaving his room and going into his bathroom. He did not remember taking a selection of pills from the medicine cabinet. He did not recall slipping on the wet floor, crashing to the ground and knocking himself unconscious. He only remembered saying goodbye to the only person in the world he still loved, but who did not love him in return.
James blinked. His eyes struggled to adapt to the bright lights in the ward. He saw his parents’ faces staring down at him, their eyes red from crying or tiredness, or both. He could see the silhouette of a third person but he could not make out who it was. He heard the beeping of machines. He heard his mother cry out for a doctor. He heard his father’s deep sigh of relief. He heard a choked sob from the blurred outline of a person. James tried to focus, blinking a few times and trying to sit up. His father pressed a firm hand against his son’s chest, laying him back down. The silhouette edged nearer. James could see red, the bright lights reflecting off the girl’s hair. He knew who it was, but he could not believe it.
“Henrietta?” He croaked.
“Yes, James. It’s me.” She whispered, her voice shaking.
The two best friends looked at each other’s faces for the first time. They had known each other for six months, but they had only ever spoken through their computers. The few times they had spoken face-to-face was through Skype. Six months ago, James found a girl on Twitter who had been to see his favourite band live. She had the brightest red hair, the most radiant smile, and a quirky fashion sense. The teenager had never expected her to reply when he tweeted to tell her that she was so lucky to have seen the band. But she did reply and the strangers spoke briefly. And then they realised they shared more interests. They listened to the same music, enjoyed the same films, read the same books and they were both lonely. As they spoke more often, talking on the phone and eventually on Skype, they became close friends. James was the brother Henrietta had always wanted. Henrietta was the girlfriend that James had never had.
The friends met for the first time in a hospital ward, after Henrietta had travelled over three hours on a train to make sure he was okay. James was far from okay, but he would get better in time. He was lucky. If he had not fallen, if he had not woken his parents after crashing to the tiled floor, it would have been too late. James was not happy, but he was grateful. He had wanted to see his sister again. He had wanted to escape. But now, as he looked into Henrietta’s emerald green eyes, felt her warm breath on his face, felt her lips press against his forehead, James realised he had a reason to live.